Welcome to Love of Place. Most of my work celebrates our connection to the natural world.

Most recently, my Knocking on Heaven's Door is the winner in the category of science fiction in the 2016 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards and in the category of fiction in the 2016 Arizona Authors Association Awards. A number of reviewers have been enthusiastic, including the website Geeks of Doom, which makes me smile. Not many people know me as a geek of doom! But I am happy to embrace the complexity of my personality.

I'm also so pleased that Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World has been awarded the 2016 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing, as well as the 2014 WILLA Award for Creative Nonfiction from Women Writing the West.

My historical fantasy Teresa of the New World won the 2015 Arizona Authors Association Award for best Children's Literature and was a finalist for the New Mexico/Arizona Book Award for Children's Literature, the WILLA Award for Children's Literature, and the May Sarton Award for Children's Literature.

These are nice landmarks in a writer's life. I would be writing regardless--but, still, whew. It's good to have some encouragement.

Feel free to contact me at http://www.sharmanaptrussell.com or through my author Facebook page, Sharman Apt Russell.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Home and Homesickness


How do you define "home?" Is it a specific place, a building, a town, a region? Is it the way the light filters through tall shade trees? The sound of waves on a beach? The smell of bread baking in the oven, or the sound of sandhill cranes flying past? The feel of snow underfoot? For me it's the fragrance of big sagebrush.

Those are the questions I posed earlier this month here on Love of Place. Knowing home and recognizing how important one particular landscape is to life and health is a theme in my memoir, Walking Nature Home: A Life's Journey (http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/books/twewal.html), just published by University of Texas Press.

Homesickness is not something our restless, rootless culture heeds or lends any credence to. We admire or even revere those who pull up stakes and move across the country or around the world for more status, economic opportunity, or even a relationship; those who stay home or return home, we scorn as "stuck in a rut" or "dull" or "stay-at-homes."

Yet, as Barry Lopez writes in his book Arctic Dreams, some of us are firmly attached to place in a way that makes "home" an essential and integral part of who we are:

For some people, what they are is not finished at the skin but continues with the reach of the senses out into the land. ... Such people are connected to the land as if by luminous fibers, and they live in a kind of time that is not of the moment, but in concert with memory, is extensive, measured by a lifetime. To cut these fibers causes not only pain, but a sense of dislocation.

I first read those words more than two decades ago in a bookstore one gray and rainy winter day in Western Washington. I remember clearly the shiver that went down my spine, and how I closed the book and rushed to the counter to buy it so I could get out of the store before bursting into tears.

Sometimes words hit you that way, arrowing straight to your heart. In that case of that passage from Arctic Dreams, it was the first time anyone had described what I felt as if it was real, something worth noting. Until I read Lopez' words, I didn't realize my feelings of dislocation mattered. I figured homesickness was a weakness. I could get over it.

I tried for decades and five more moves, from Washington to the Front Range of Colorado to Iowa to New Mexico. Only when I recognized that being away from home hurt not just my heart but my health and my ability to do what I'm best at in life, that spurred me to speak up, and resulted in my husband and I leaving our settled, comfortable, and financially stable lives behind to move home to the the small town where we live in the Southern Rockies.

Here's what I realized, as I wrote in Walking Nature Home:

I belong to the arid spaces where sagebrush grows, mountains define at least one horizon, and stars fill clear night skies.

Homesickness may not be a diagnosable illness, but it is more than mere sentiment. The word itself, writes Carolyn Servid in Of Landscape and Longing, allows the truth that when we are away from the places that nurture heart and spirit we feel "unhealthy, ill at ease." Americans are a restless culture, moving constantly in search of new opportunities, which we define in terms of money, possessions, and power, not the richness of connection. If we valued roots—attachment to place and the community of species that live there, over material success, we might be happier, less driven to accumulate things and more able to be nourished by what we have and who we love.

The subtle malaise that captures us when we live in a place or culture that nurtures neither heart or spirit may be telling us that we, like ET, need to honor the call to go home.

When I wrote those words, America and the world were in boom economic times. The stock market was going up and infinite growth seemed possible (at least to some). Now we're on the downhill slope of this particular roller-coaster ride, and all of us are feeling the pain in one way or another. It seems to me that tough times are like any challenge: they are hard and dangerous, but they also offer the opportunity to walk new paths. Tough times shake up our habits and routines, forcing us to re-evaluate what we're doing and make sure it's what's best for us. Focusing on what's really most important in life and taking steps toward our dreams could be what sustains us through the hard times.

Homesickness may not be a diagnosable illness, but the symptoms could be an important call to honor ourselves and cut to the heart of what we really need to live our best possible life.


Susan J Tweit said...


Thanks for hosting me on Love of Place. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work--I loved your letter to your father in Terrain!--and also to the other writers you've got coming up, especially to Page Lambert and Terry Song. I haven't seen Terry's poetry since we left Las Cruces. What a wonderful body of work you ware building here.

Oh, one note on the blog schedule: the next stop is April 2nd at Sheep to Shawl, not April 4th.

Thanks again, Sharman. Blessings to you as spring advances.... Susan

Susan GT said...

Wonderful...on these hard and uncertain days it's so important to remember what home really means to us and to use it as an anchor. To become focused taking those steps toward our dreams rather than abandoning them to fear.

Thank you!
Susan GT
Susan's Art & Words

Deborah Robson said...

Sharman, I'm delighted to know you have a blog, which I discovered through this tour. I mean, I'd drive 90 minutes one way to hear you give a reading, so you'd think I'd know you have a blog, but nope.

Susan's writing on home landscape and right livelihood speaks to my condition. I've worked on both for my whole life, getting it almost right much of the time, but still dislocated slightly in both realms. An ongoing quest.

And I'm so glad Susan mentioned Carolyn Servid's book, another fine set of writings for people to discover.

Susan J Tweit said...

"To become focused on taking those steps toward our dreams rather than abandoning them to fear." So beautifully, put, Susan! That's what we aim for, and when we don't achieve it, it's like any other practice: we notice what's happened and pick ourselves up and start again.

Deb, I love that you'd use the Quaker phrase "speaks to my condition" here on Sharman's group blog in reference to my writing. The right words at the right time--thank you!